Myths & Facts about Stingrays
When we started DragonSkin - we had some misconceptions about stingrays that turned out to be false. We have since learned a lot about stingrays and have come to appreciate what awesome creatures they are. We wanted to capture some of the biggest myths and facts about stingrays all in one place. If you have any more you want to add to the list feel free to reach out and let us know!
Are stingrays related to sharks? Fact!
Believe it or not, stingrays are very closely related to sharks! In fact, groups like the Shark Lab in Cal State University, Long Beach study stingrays. They have a great visual of the shark & stingray relationship that you can check out on their site.
Do stingrays bite humans? Myth!
There is a common misconception that stingrays bite humans. The main source of stingray injuries are “stings” from the venomous barbs on their tails. Although stingrays have teeth (here’s a really cool visual from News 4), their teeth are flat and usually used for crushing prey like crustaceans and shellfish. Their mouths are located on the bottom of their flat bodies, and since stingrays typically hang out on the ocean floor, it would be hard for them to bite people above them even if they wanted to!
Did Steve Irwin die from a stingray? Fact, but misleading
Unfortunately, Steve Irwin died from a stingray sting to the heart. However, there are many misconceptions around the nature of the sting and the stingray itself.
The stingray that killed Steve Irwin was a short-tailed stingray. This species can grow up to 14 ft across–the one that killed Steve was about 6.5 ft. Unfortunately, the stingray’s barb punctured Steve’s heart, a very rare event, which eventually led to his death. There are over 200 known species of stingrays in the world, and most of the stingrays humans interact with live in shallower water and are much smaller than the short-tailed stingray. For example, the Round Stingray, the most common stingray species in Southern California, is on average about 10 inches across—the size of a dinner plate. Stingray stings, while hardly a walk in the park, rarely lead to death.
Do stingrays attack humans? Myth!
It depends what you mean! Stingrays are actually known to be non-aggressive creatures. When humans get hurt by stingrays, it’s not because they’re coming to attack humans. Rather, it’s a natural reflexive mechanism they have to swing their barbed tails to fend off predators. Stingrays would prefer to avoid humans just as much as humans would like to avoid them, but unfortunately, the turbulent and sandy environment at many beaches often makes this impossible.
Do stingrays get attracted to human electrical signals? Plausible
Special Organ, Ampulla of Lorenzini (singular) stingrays use to detect electrical signal of prey
Believe it or not, stingrays can detect electrical signals from their prey like shrimp and small fish —find more information in this KQED article. Like sharks, stingrays have special sensing organs called Ampullae of Lorenzini which detect these faint electrical signals. Some folks who reached out to DragonSkin think their electrical signals are attracting stingrays. Although there is no proof that this can occur, it’s an interesting hypothesis that we think may be plausible!
Do stingrays bury themselves in sand? Fact!
Stingray partially buried in the sand
Yes, many stingrays bury themselves in sand to rest and hide from potential predators. There is a great visual of a side-by-side of a stingray buried in sand and one that isn’t from the CSULB Shark Lab (we wouldn’t have even noticed the second stingray if it wasn’t labeled!). This is unfortunately one of the reasons why so many people accidentally step on stingrays.
Can stingrays die if you step on them? Plausible
Round stingrays are small (about the size of a dinner plate) and can potentially die when you step on them
Although there are no written articles about it, Professor Lowe from the CSULB Shark Lab has shared that unfortunately, stingrays usually die if you step on them. This is due to the crushing of internal organs, as humans are many orders of magnitude heavier than typical stingrays. It’s a sad thing to realize that the ultimate outcome of a stingray sting is a human gets stung and the stingray dies.
Does a stingray stinger contain venom? Fact!
Anatomy of a stingray barb
One of the reasons a stingray sting hurts so much is that venom around the stinger enters the wound and causes severe pain. There is conflicting evidence surrounding the use of hot water to reduce pain. The prevailing wisdom says that this water helps deactivate the venom, which is why it is common practice to soak your feet in hot water after getting stung.
Is a stingray stinger made out of bone? Myth!
Take a look at this picture of a stingray stinger with the skin and mucus removed:
Closeup picture of a stingray barb
Certainly looks like bone, doesn’t it? Interestingly enough though, it’s made of modified scales called "dermal denticles"! Believe it or not - stingrays don’t have a single bone. Rather, their skeletons are made of cartilage - much like their shark cousins.
Will the stingray shuffle prevent stingray stings? Plausible
For those who haven’t heard of the stingray shuffle, it is done by walking in the water without lifting your feet from the sand. The theory is that by dragging your feet along the bottom, you will kick up sand and let the stingrays know you are coming. There is conflicting information on the efficacy of this technique! Although many sources recommend the shuffle to prevent stingray stings, we’ve gotten word from many beachgoers that say they’ve been stung doing the shuffle. Here is an alternative theory put forward by blogger Brian Chernicky that stomping may actually deter stingrays more than the shuffle, due to the vibrations you send through the ground when you stomp. Unfortunately, there isn’t conclusive evidence to support or rule out either of these methods. We’re not sure whether the stingray shuffle, the stingray stomp, or normal walking is better – so be careful whichever you use!
Can a stingray sting cause loss of sensation in the foot? Fact!
Nerves in the human foot
Although rare, we’ve unfortunately come across situations where people have had nerve damage in their feet because of stingrays. This is because a stingray’s sting can sever or partially damage nerves in the foot which could cause numbness. NPR has a post on a Santa Monica beachgoer’s experience with nerve damage because of stingrays.
Traditional surfing booties will prevent stingray stings Myth!
Recreation of a stingray sting with a traditional bootie and DragonSkin™ Booties
We wrote an entire blog post on this topic! Check it out here. From our testing, we’ve found that neoprene-only booties offer little to no protection against stingray stings. Denser materials on traditional booties do provide some protection, but often, the materials aren’t thick enough, hard enough, or don’t cover a wide enough area to provide much protection.
Bonus Stingray Myth:
Mr. Ray in Finding Nemo is a stingray Myth!
He's a Manta Ray! People often get stingrays and Manta Rays confused. Manta Rays can get much larger than stingrays - up to 23 ft across! Also, Manta Rays have no stinger on their tails compared to stingrays.